Speaking of ill-considered financial decisions made by politicians intent on their policy priorities, new emails revealed by the AP show that the administration was warned that parts of ObamaCare were a financial disaster--but plowed ahead anyway.
Obama's own bipartisan debt commission last year recommended major reforms or repeal of CLASS, as did another independent advisory group. Nursing homes and long-term care providers support the program, while private long-term care insurance companies oppose it. CLASS poses a dilemma for the new congressional supercommittee, since it initially reduces the federal deficit until payouts overwhelm premiums collected.
The emails show that the first warning about CLASS came in May 2009, from Richard Foster, head of long range economic forecasts for Medicare. "At first glance this proposal doesn't look workable," Foster wrote in an email to other HHS officials, some of whom were working with Congress to get CLASS into the health care law.
Foster said a rough outline of the program would have to enroll more than 230 million people - more than the U.S. workforce - to be financially feasible.
But work on CLASS continued, bolstered by a report for AARP that laid out scenarios for implementing the plan. The AARP study also raised financial concerns, although the seniors' lobby supports CLASS.
In July, Foster tried again. After reviewing the latest information from Kennedy's office, he wrote HHS officials: "Thirty-six years of (professional) experience lead me to believe that this program would collapse in short order and require significant federal subsidies to continue."
Too late. The Obama administration had decided to support CLASS. Documents and emails indicate that Foster was edged out of deliberations. Officials relied on a more favorable analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. In November, Foster went public with his concerns. Congress was well aware, the administration says.
By that time, Marton, the HHS aging policy official, was also raising questions internally. Emails he sent other administration officials relayed studies that raised concerns about such issues as premiums and the role of employers, while also recommending fixes.
Publicly, the administration maintained it would all work out. A December 2009 presentation for senior officials stressed the end result would be a financially robust program.
In private, administration insiders were still spelling out concerns. In January 2010, amid the final drive to pass the health care law through a divided Congress, officials circulated a 10-page list of "technical corrections." One item questioned whether the law gave HHS sufficient authority to redesign the program to keep it afloat, and recommended a "failsafe" clause spelling that out.
The administration seems to think that it can fix the program--but the only workable fix appears to be making the thing mandatory rather than optional, which is hardly what they said when they were passing it. And it's not even clear that making it mandatory would work, as my husband noted last spring.